How Can Christians Best Navigate Public Schools?
For the past few years, I have had the opportunity to partner with my friends Stephen and Sarah Williams at their annual Christian Youth Summit in Bend, Oregon. This year we had nearly 800 students! The Williams have a special ministry, Prepare the Way, which helps train the next generation with a Christian worldview.
Recently, they co-authored a book together called Navigating Public Schools. They gave me the great honor of writing the foreword. Because their message is so timely and important, I highly commend it to you. If you have kids in public schools, or know someone who does, this book may be an invaluable resource for you.
Stephen was kind enough to briefly answer a few of my questions:
SEAN MCDOWELL: As a former atheist, what brought you to Christ?
STEPHEN WILLIAMS: Apologetics opened the door to Christianity for me. I had been a fairly hostile atheist for most of my life. I thought Christians had to check their brains out at the front door of church. When I was in my thirties, a friend challenged me to read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. That got me seeking. Then I took an Alpha course at a local church and committed my life to Christ.
MCDOWELL: What motivated you to write a book helping parents navigate public schools?
WILLIAMS: I was a public school teacher for 10 years in California. Shortly after I became a Christian, there was an atheist parent who complained when I tried to use several historical documents that had Christian references, including the Declaration of Independence. I was always careful never to proselytize; I just wanted to teach history accurately. With help from Alliance Defending Freedom, we did get a policy in the court documents clarifying that it is totally legal to use primary source documents with Christian references. But through the process of the court case, I realized that so many parents (and teachers and pastors, etc.) had no idea what their rights were in public schools. Also, many parents were concerned about their kids getting their worldview “secularized,” as they were spending more waking hours in school than at home; but they did not know what to do about it. That experience birthed the book. We want to equip parents to help their children stand firm in their Christian faith and worldview and to know and exercise their rights on campus in a graceful way. Ultimately, we long to see more families become salt and light for Jesus Christ.
MCDOWELL: What are the unique worldview challenges Christian students face today?
WILLIAMS: First off, I think many Christian students don’t know what a “worldview” is exactly, and many parents are in that boat, too. So it’s really easy for them to be swayed by a secular worldview that is so prevalent in schools, without even knowing it. Barna and others have shown that a very low percentage of teens have a Biblical worldview, even by simple definitions.
Second, navigating the public education system is becoming increasingly daunting because there really is an agenda out there that is making the Christian worldview very unpopular at times. That kind of peer pressure is really hard for young people. Through our experience in youth ministry, we have seen how powerful it can be when kids actually understand their beliefs. When they learn to spot the common attacks on the Christian worldview, and see those arguments really don’t carry much weight, it is empowering for them. Their faith starts to become their own, and not just that of their parents, or their church.
MCDOWELL: What is one practical advice you give to help parents?
WILLIAMS: Be intentional about building a strong worldview as a family, and find healthy Christian community where you can get support in that process. I think we, as parents, need to take the statistics seriously that roughly 50% of young people disengage the church when they leave home. There are no guarantees, but if we stay intentional about studying God’s map, and the cultural map, it sure helps us navigate more effectively.
MCDOWELL: Doesn’t the “separation of Church and State” make it illegal to be a Christian presence in public schools?
WILLIAMS: Sadly, most Christians have been deceived by this misleading metaphor. In the book, we describe how Christian parents, students, staff and volunteers, can live out their faith on public school campuses and appropriately be a light for Christ. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” We pray that the book, Navigating Public Schools, will encourage all Christians in how they can Constitutionally live out their faith. We include many inspiring stories of students, parents, staff and pastors who have made a huge difference in their schools.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.